Survival Statute of Limitations Faces Pennsylvania Supreme Court Decision

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently heard arguments on the following question: In medical professional liability claims, when does the statute of limitations applicable to survival actions begin to run? At issue is whether the statute of limitations begins to run before or after the time of death.

The case arose out of Dubose v. Quinlan, in which a jury found a nursing home and healthcare network negligent for the treatment of Elise Dubose. While in the nursing home’s care, Dubose developed severe ulcers, which were allegedly left untreated, leading to her death. The jury awarded Dubose’s estate $125,000 for wrongful death and $1,000,000 on the estate’s survival action.

On appeal, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania rejected the argument that the survival action was filed beyond the statute of limitations. At issue: whether the statute began to run when Mrs. Dubose developed her wounds or upon her death. The Superior Court ruled that:

The MCARE Act [Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Act] clearly provides that wrongful death and survival actions may be brought within two years of death. … Both [complaints] were filed within two years of the decedent’s death. Therefore, the Survival Act claim was timely filed within the two-year statute of limitations.

On March 7th, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard arguments on the issue. The justices were asked to decide whether the statutory time bar for survival actions was erroneously expanded beyond the two-year window. The estate argued that the issue was a matter of simple statutory construction, while the defendants argued that the statute of limitations had been misapplied.

Specifically, defendants argued that the lower courts had misinterpreted the MCARE Act, and thus, the survival claim was too late. The estate disagreed, urging the justices to look closely at the MCARE Act’s wording. The estate stressed that a section of the measure titled the “Statute of Repose” clearly stated that survival actions must be commenced within two years of a death.


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